US blocks African candidate for WTO chief with eye on China

US blocks African candidate for WTO chief with eye on China

American support for South Korean minister poses headache for Japan

PARIS/NEW YORK — The U.S. has expressed opposition to Nigerian-born economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the top job at the World Trade Organization, prolonging a selection process that was expected to conclude Wednesday.

Okonjo-Iweala, who formerly held the No. 2 post at the World Bank, had amassed wide support among African countries and secured around 80 votes, or half of the organization’s members, by mid-October. More recently, she gained the backing of the 27 European Union members, all but clinching victory.

But the meeting of members on Wednesday failed to finalize the selection — a race between Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee — due to Washington’s rejection.

“One delegation could not support the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi and said they would continue to support South Korean minister Yoo. That delegation was the United States of America,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters at the group’s headquarters in Geneva after the closed-door meeting.

The WTO’s decision-making process is based on consensus, and either candidate will need to win the blessing of all 164 members.